TOKYO (Kyodo) - Japan's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell 0.1 percentage point in June from May to 3.7 percent, its lowest level since February 1998, the government said Tuesday.
The fall underscores continued improvement in the nation's labor market, especially youth employment, bolstered by sustained economic growth, government officials said. The figure beat the average market forecast of 3.8 percent.
The number of jobless people came to 2.41 million in the reporting month, down 370,000 from a year earlier for the 19th straight month of decline, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said in a preliminary report.
A ministry official said he believes there will be no change in the improvement tendency as companies appear to be proactive about hiring new graduates next year.
Economic and fiscal policy minister Hiroko Ota told a press conference the 3.7 percent unemployment rate was ''fairly good'' and welcomed the fact that the number of jobholders increased 160,000 from May and that of jobless people dropped 80,000 from the previous month.
''The data show that the Japanese economy's recovery trend has been firm,'' she said.
Private-sector economists indicate they expect the employment situation to continue to improve, saying companies in a wide range of sectors face a labor shortage as the economy continues to grow.
''The economic recovery is pushing up the rate of labor participation,'' said Takuji Aida, chief economist at Barclays Capital Japan Ltd. ''Companies are eager to hire regular employees as well as part-time staff, even staff working for a very short period of time.''
''We expect wages to start rising for a tighter labor market when the jobless rate falls below 3.5 percent, which we think will occur in a year,'' Aida said, alluding to a positive cycle of higher employment and wages leading to a rise in consumption, which would further expand overall economic activity.
According to the report, the jobless rate for men dropped 0.1 percentage point in June from the previous month to 3.8 percent, and that for women fell by the same margin to 3.5 percent.
The number of jobholders rose 530,000 in June from a year earlier to 64.91 million for the ninth consecutive month of increase.
The number of male jobholders came to 37.86 million, up 280,000 from a year earlier, and the number of female workers increased by 250,000 to 27.06 million.
Unemployment rates slipped in almost all age brackets, most sharply in the 15-24 age bracket.
The jobless rate for males in that age category fell 0.7 point in June from a year earlier to 8.5 percent and that for females came to 5.8 percent, down 2.1 points.
The number of people who quit their jobs totaled 940,000, down 50,000 from a year earlier. The number of people dismissed from their jobs dropped 110,000 to 550,000.
By industry, the number of jobholders grew in the manufacturing sector and the retail and wholesale industry, but shrank in the construction sector and the service industry.
In a separate report, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said the ratio of job offers to job seekers came to 1.07 in June on a seasonally adjusted basis, up 0.01 point from May. The figure means there were 107 jobs available for every 100 job seekers.
The number of job offers climbed 1.0 percent while that of job seekers rose 0.2 percent, the labor ministry said.
The number of new job offers dropped 7.0 percent from a year before.